Ponder. Conspire. Digitize.

There are few things less stressful than being on deadline and unable to reach a source. As I frantically tried to dig up Ned

Harper’s phone number so I could finish a story I thought what the heck let’s try Facebook.

I found Harper and shot off a quick urgent message. In less than two minutes my phone rang.

The power of the Internet is not in the technology or the wires it is in the immediate connection of humans.

It was obvious by the overwhelming turnout at a social networking workshop held over the summer, presented by the Small Business Development Center, that the Internet is rapidly changing the face of local business. There is no question about if a business should participate in social media, it now it is a matter of how.

Businesses, large and small are hopping on the Social media bandwagon, unfortunately, some are doing it rapidly and blindly, with many asking where the heck is the “how-to” manual?

Well, the manual is in the works and is not expected to reach completion any time soon. Until change stops or at least slows, it is next to impossible to build a hard fast approach for doing business online.

It is important to note the sheer number of Internet portals and media avenues available for disseminating information. Online marketing does not begin and end with Twitter and Facebook, said Michael Benedict of Benedict Advertising in Daytona Beach.

Other social media platforms businesses should be aware of include blogs, forums, wikis, video and photo sharing, social news, virtual reality, and mobile applications.

Different messages will work best in different mediums, while the large social networking platforms like Twitter are in the press, a campaign in virtual reality or on a targeted forum may reach the intended audience more directly, said Benedict.

The Engagement report prepared by Altimeter Group, a strategy consulting firm, ranked the social networking efforts of the top 100 brands and discussed the tips, techniques, and tribulations those companies have encountered.

The report also took a stab at answering the question: Can a correlation between social media efforts and return on investment be detected?

The report author found, “Social media engagement and financial success work together to perpetuate a healthy business cycle: a customer-oriented mindset stemming from deep social interaction allows a company to identify and meet customer needs in the marketplace, generating superior profits.”

Harper confirms that he is seeing a payoff from the social networking efforts of the SBDC, sighting a case where attendance numbers were doubled in the last 4 days before an event due to intense social networking and online marketing using a combination of e-blasts, Twitter and Facebook.

But above and beyond the benefit of the tangible profit are the alliances and strong business networks being formed, explained Harper. “I’m connecting with people that are perhaps unrelated to what I am dealing with at the time but who often turn out to be great resources and connections for future projects.”

For those feeling lost, working with a marketing firm to integrate online strategies is a good way to get started. Some will provide staff training allowing the work to stay in the house or the entire social networking project can be outsourced.

Businesses intending to market themselves online must prepare to communicate in the complex multi-way conversation.